Rationale: The hypothesis that lung collapse is detrimental during the acute respiratory distress syndrome is still debatable. One of the difficulties is the lack of an efficient maneuver to minimize it.
Objectives: To test if a bedside recruitment strategy, capable of reversing hypoxemia and collapse in > 95% of lung units, is clinically applicable in early acute respiratory distress syndrome.
Methods: Prospective assessment of a stepwise maximum-recruitment strategy using multislice computed tomography and continuous blood-gas hemodynamic monitoring.
Measurements and main results: Twenty-six patients received sequential increments in inspiratory airway pressures, in 5 cm H(2)O steps, until the detection of Pa(O(2)) + Pa(CO(2)) >or= 400 mm Hg. Whenever this primary target was not met, despite inspiratory pressures reaching 60 cm H(2)O, the maneuver was considered incomplete. If there was hemodynamic deterioration or barotrauma, the maneuver was to be interrupted. Late assessment of recruitment efficacy was performed by computed tomography (9 patients) or by online continuous monitoring in the intensive care unit (15 patients) up to 6 h. It was possible to open the lung and to keep the lung open in the majority (24/26) of patients, at the expense of transient hemodynamic effects and hypercapnia but without major clinical consequences. No barotrauma directly associated with the maneuver was detected. There was a strong and inverse relationship between arterial oxygenation and percentage of collapsed lung mass (R = - 0.91; p < 0.0001).
Conclusions: It is often possible to reverse hypoxemia and fully recruit the lung in early acute respiratory distress syndrome. Due to transient side effects, the required maneuver still awaits further evaluation before routine clinical application.